Several examples of Christians opposing all violence and means of self defense have been in the news lately, and I can’t deal with all such examples. But three particular examples come to mind, and I first want to show you one example from Mr. Robert Schenck in a ridiculously titled article, Christ or a Glock.
“Well, first of all you’re making an immediate decision that if someone invades your home, they are going to die,” Rev. Schenck replied. “So you are ready to kill another human being in your home. That brings about a big ethical question for the Christian. And we’re told in the Bible, we’re even to love our enemies.”
“Even a potential intruder? Someone who’s been coming into your home to hurt you?”
“Absolutely. Is it always God’s will that I survive a violent confrontation with another human being? I’m not sure that’s always God’s will.”
Before we address this tangled web of confusion, let’s bring up another example from Mr. Benjamin Corey who has a commentary up at Patheos entitled The Serious Problems With Using Ecclesiastes 3 To Justify Christian Support Of War & Violence.
I thought I had addressed all of the counter arguments over the years, but a new one is emerging and being used more and more frequently: the use of Ecclesiastes chapter 3 to justify the Christian’s support of war and violence.
[ … ]
So, here’s how this is starting to be used in Christian discussions about guns, war, and violence: When Christian A puts forth the nonviolent teachings of Jesus, Christian B retorts by posting this passage in reply. The inferred argument is, “Jesus couldn’t have really meant that, because Ecclesiastes says there’s a time to kill and a time for war.”
First, it ignores Jesus! The act of rebutting Jesus using other passages of Scripture should be a major red flag in the mind of any believer. If Jesus is the living Word of God and the Wisdom of God, then we begin with what Jesus taught us. This is what makes us Christians instead of Biblicists– we follow the teachings of our Lord and Savior. When one rejects the face value teaching and example of Christ in favor of other passages or people in Scripture, it’s a good indication that such a person may like Jesus the Savior but not Jesus the Lord– and unfortunately, this thing is a package deal.
Let’s expand on Benjamin’s views on guns in a previous commentary entitled Some Serious Questions I Have For All Those Good Guys With Guns.
So, you’re a good guy with a gun. I get it. I’ve seen the bumper sticker, heard the slogan a million times, and I even used to be one of you. I’m retired military, was an expert marksman, and was even awarded the Bronze Schützenschnur by the German army.
I was a bonafide good guy with a gun for most of my adult life thus far. But even in my most pro-gun days, the entire American motif of a good guy with a gun made me ask some hard questions– and left me feeling less and less comfortable with the whole concept.
I appreciate the basic sentiment of it all, really. I want my family to live in safety as well, and my desire-meter ranks precisely zero for how badly I’d like to die while standing in line at the deli.
However, this idea that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun is really over-simplified. In fact, I think it is dangerously over-simplified and should really invite some hard questions for those would-be good guys with guns.
The first question this invites is, where will you keep it? Studies show that the presence of a gun in the home increases the likelihood that someone will get shot. Further, we have a growing problem in America of toddlers shooting people with guns they stumble upon. Will you at least keep it locked up in a gun safe where kids can’t access it?
I hope you’ll be that reasonable. But, if you do keep it locked up in a safe because you don’t want your kids getting their hands on it, that invites another question: What good would that do you in an emergency? I mean, having it inconveniently out of reach under lock and key sorta defeats the entire point, no?
But let’s say you resolve that issue– perhaps you’ll be one of those good guys with a gun who carries it everywhere. You strap it safely to your hip, have a hollow point in the chamber, and you’re locked and loaded. That too invites a whole additional line of questioning.
Perhaps the biggest question it invites is this: What qualifies you to be a good guy with a gun who is ready to end a human life at a moment’s notice? Is there some special qualification, or is the mere fact that you think highly of your personal character all the qualification you need?
Some states (like my home state of Maine) require no training at all to be a good guy with a concealed gun, while others require some sort of basic gun safety training. Let’s say you took one of these basic courses: Does a few hours or even a few days of training qualify you to be making life or death decisions in a split second while shopping in Walmart?
If it does, why do the military and law enforcement constantly train? Why not give our professional good guys a few hours of training on a Saturday, hand them a gun, and call it good?
Let’s give the benefit of the doubt for a moment, and consider that you’re an expert on gun safety and an expert marksman. That still leaves a bigger question: Have you taken “kill or no kill” training? Like, lots and lots of it where you decide if someone lives or dies, on the spot and in less than a second? Because that’s what you’ll have to do in real life as a good guy with a gun.
It’s one thing to be a decent person who owns a gun and is trained on the mechanics of how to use it, but what about split-second judgement calls when a human life is in the balance? This is why professional arms bearers repeatedly take kill or no kill training– it’s not enough to be ready to shoot, one needs to have the ability to decide if to shoot at all.
Let me ask you a hypothetical: let’s say you’re standing in the movie isle at Walmart and you hear gunfire and people screaming. You quickly remember that you’re a good guy with a gun, so you draw your weapon and run to the end of the isle. Once you get there, you see a guy with his own gun drawn, and is pointing it in the opposite direction as you.
Do you kill him while you have a clean shot?
Oh my. The confusion with Benjamin is neck deep, and it’s going to take some time and effort to sort this out. Before we begin, I know that I have a number of readers who aren’t Christians. That’s great, and I’m happy to host you in my small and humble home. This may be a bit boring to you, but you should care anyway. Men like this not only influence public policy, but they effectively disarm much of the Christian public with their advocacy, this disarming have the effect of making them vulnerable to literally anyone who comes along armed. Witness the kidnapping of those poor girls at the hands of Boko Haram, or the extinction of Christianity in Mesopotamia, a sad but gradual catastrophe I have watched ever since OIF began. A large segment of the population that cannot defend themselves is of concern to you, whether you are a Christian or not. And if you hang on with me, you’ll learn some things about what Jesus thought of unbiblical laws banning weapons. With that said, let’s begin.
Mr. Schenck says, following Christ, to “love your enemies,” and asserts that this is a big “ethical question” during a home invasion. Next, without any exegesis or explanation fleshing this out, another leaky bucket is put with the first one, where Mr. Schenk invokes the will of God. “Is it always God’s will that I survive a violent confrontation with another human being? I’m not sure that’s always God’s will,” he says. Here Mr. Schenck has said too much and destroyed his own argument, and it will require some explanation to explain what I mean.
Mr. Schenck is acting like a Calvinist, but I seriously doubt he has the deep and abiding commitment to Calvinian theology that I do. Mr. Schenck is relying on ignorance of the masses for the force of his argument. Classic Calvinian theology divides the will of God into two distinct categories: (1) preceptive, and (2) decretive. God’s preceptive will pertains to His precepts, His laws. What does God wish to happen, or how does He wish mankind to live? The second category pertains to His decretive will, or what He has decreed to come to pass.
Isaiah 46:10 says “I am God and there is no one like me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’ ” (Isaiah 46:9-10). Ephesians 1:11 says ” … having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will.” Again, all things. This suffices for many hundreds of passages that teach the same thing. God decrees, and no one stays His hand.
Furthermore, He tells us that the later category is not only unknown to us, it is off limits. Deuteronomy 29:29 says “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.” We are responsible for knowing and obeying His law, not the outcome, nor the flow of times and epochs that result from our choices and actions. That’s in God’s hands, and we are not to question it.
Mr. Schenck is questioning God’s decretive will, apparently in need of knowing it so that he can attempt to effect it. But it makes no difference. Mr. Schenck can no more bring it to pass nor prevent it from coming to pass than he can move the moon or keep it from moving. And we have just said that it is none of his business anyway. Mr. Schenck is either a poorly informed and badly educated Calvinist, or he invoked the doctrines of God’s will in an attempt to confuse people, or merely as another objection to self defense. I suspect it’s the later rather than the former.
In either case, we’re left with only his first objection, his notion that Jesus was a pacifist, Bohemian hippie flower child. But he has supplied no exegesis of Matthew 5:44 to make us think that Jesus intends for us to allow others to kill us in His name. In fact, the problem lies not in the words of Jesus (who was dealing with personal grievances, not public threats, see here John Gill’s and Matthew Poole’s exposition), but rather Mr. Schenck’s lack of hermeneutical self-discipline.
The Holy writ is a unity, with Christ as the scarlet thread running throughout. The words of the O.T. are no more in contradiction with Christ than the balance of the N.T. There is progressive revelation and development of the covenant, but there isn’t any embarrassing contradiction. We needn’t turn to obscure passages or tangential concerns to justify Biblical self defense. As we’ve noted before, the basis for it is found in the Decalogue.
I am afraid there have been too many centuries of bad teaching endured by the church, but it makes sense to keep trying. As I’ve explained before, the simplest and most compelling case for self defense lies in the decalogue. Thou shall not murder means thou shall protect life.
God’s law requires [us] to be able to defend the children and helpless. “Relying on Matthew Henry, John Calvin and the Westminster standards, we’ve observed that all Biblical law forbids the contrary of what it enjoins, and enjoins the contrary of what it forbids.” I’ve tried to put this in the most visceral terms I can find.
God has laid the expectations at the feet of heads of families that they protect, provide for and defend their families and protect and defend their countries. Little ones cannot do so, and rely solely on those who bore them. God no more loves the willing neglect of their safety than He loves child abuse. He no more appreciates the willingness to ignore the sanctity of our own lives than He approves of the abuse of our own bodies and souls. God hasn’t called us to save the society by sacrificing our children or ourselves to robbers, home invaders, rapists or murderers. Self defense – and defense of the little ones – goes well beyond a right. It is a duty based on the idea that man is made in God’s image. It is His expectation that we do the utmost to preserve and defend ourselves when in danger, for it is He who is sovereign and who gives life, and He doesn’t expect us to be dismissive or cavalier about its loss.
And concerning John Calvin’s comments on this subject:
We do not need to prove that when a good thing is commanded, the evil thing that conflicts with it is forbidden. There is no one who doesn’t concede this. That the opposite duties are enjoined when evil things are forbidden will also be willingly admitted in common judgment. Indeed, it is commonplace that when virtues are commended, their opposing vices are condemned. But we demand something more than what these phrases commonly signify. For by the virtue of contrary to the vice, men usually mean abstinence from that vice. We say that the virtue goes beyond this to contrary duties and deeds. Therefore in this commandment, “You shall not kill,” men’s common sense will see only that we must abstain from wronging anyone or desiring to do so. Besides this, it contains, I say, the requirement that we give our neighbor’s life all the help we can … the purpose of the commandment always discloses to us whatever it there enjoins or forbids us to do” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1, Book 2, Chapter viii, Part 9).
If you’re willing to sacrifice the safety and health of your wife or children to the evils of abuse, kidnapping, sexual predation or death, God isn’t impressed with your fake morality. Capable of stopping it and choosing not to, you’re no better than a child molester, and I wouldn’t allow you even to be around my grandchildren.
Turning now to Benjamin, the confusion becomes even more chaotic with less hermeneutical self-discipline. First of all, he’s tried to tackle too much. Without going into the details of his argument, Professor Darrell Cole has written a very good article at First Things entitled Good Wars. His closing paragraph summarizes his thesis.
The most noteworthy aspect of the moral approach to warfare in Aquinas and Calvin is that it teaches (contrary to today’s prevailing views) that a failure to engage in a just war is a failure of virtue, a failure to act well. An odd corollary of this conclusion is that it is a greater evil for Christians to fail to wage a just war than it is for unbelievers. When an unbeliever fails to go to war, the cause may be a lack of courage, prudence, or justice. He may be a coward or simply indifferent to evil. These are failures of natural moral virtue. When Christians (at least in the tradition of Aquinas and Calvin) fail to engage in just war, it may involve all of these natural failures as well, but it will also, and more significantly, involve a failure of charity. The Christian who fails to use force to aid his neighbor when prudence dictates that force is the best way to render that aid is an uncharitable Christian. Hence, Christians who willingly and knowingly refuse to engage in a just war do a vicious thing: they fail to show love toward their neighbor as well as toward God.
If Robert or Benjamin haven’t interacted with Cole’s analysis, you may safely ignore what they have to say on this issue. They haven’t really tackled the hard issues yet or dealt honestly with violence, federal headship or the fallen state of mankind. To that extent, their exposition is cowardly. It never helps your case to beat up on straw men or weaklings. You have to step into the back yard and run with the big dogs before people will respect you.
Second, Benjamin acts as if the only justification for violence is found in Ecclesiastes 3. I’ve never even seen such an argument in print, and I certainly wouldn’t make it (not from the so-called “wisdom literature” of Scripture). But beating up on Ecclesiastes 3 doesn’t justify his next move, which is to disconnect the balance of Scripture from the person and teachings of Christ. He says “If Jesus is the living Word of God and the Wisdom of God, then we begin with what Jesus taught us. This is what makes us Christians instead of Biblicists– we follow the teachings of our Lord and Savior. When one rejects the face value teaching and example of Christ in favor of other passages or people in Scripture, it’s a good indication that such a person may like Jesus the Savior but not Jesus the Lord– and unfortunately, this thing is a package deal.”
That’s right, Benjamin. It’s a package deal, and I have no need of setting one passage off against another because I follow the commonly accepted rules of Biblical hermeneutics. It’s a package deal, and that means I see all of Scripture as a whole, with progressive revelation, development of the covenants, unity of purpose, and divine sanction and inspiration of the authors. For the best study on this, see Inerrancy, edited by Norman L. Geisler. I have no need of ignoring Jesus’ words – in fact, I cherish every one of them. I just make sure to appropriately understand and contextualize them.
For the third example, as for the oft-quoted Luke 22:36, Preston Sprinkle dismisses this passage out of hand as justifying anything at all, to the point that he doesn’t even interact with this passage. He continues his missive, and I have to say that I’m not at all impressed by his “scholarship.” He doesn’t any more honestly deal with issues than the two authors we’ve already examined. I find his snarky manner very off-putting, and his lack of honesty in dealing with the Scriptural data very revealing.
But regarding his dismissal of Luke 22:36, which I presume he treats as some sort of spiritualized metaphor, remember that Christ wasn’t just commanding His disciples to get swords (for the purpose of self defense, or the purpose of ensuring that they would later be guilty of breaking the law, or whatever, it doesn’t matter). He was commanding that his disciples become criminals. It was against the law for them to have those swords. “During the Roman occupation of Judea, Jews were forbidden to own swords, spears or any implements of war.” Jesus commanded them to ignore laws controlling weapons. While I reject the theological approach taken by Dr. Martin at Yale University, he has supplied us with good data on this question.
… for some evidence, see Digest 48.6.1: collecting weapons ‘beyond those customary for hunting or for a journey by land or sea’ is forbidden; 184.108.40.206 forbids a man ‘of full age’ appearing in public with a weapon (telum) (references and translation are from Mommsen 1985). See also Mommsen 1899: 564 n. 2; 657-58 n. 1; and Linderski 2007: 102-103 (though he cites only Mommsen). Other laws from the same context of the Digest sometimes cited in this regard are not as worthwhile for my purposes because they seem to be forbidding the possession of weapons with criminal intent. But for the outright forbidding of being armed while in public in Rome, see Cicero’s letter to his brother relating an incident in Rome in which a man, who is apparently falsely accused of plotting an assassination, is nonetheless arrested merely for having confessed to having been armed with a dagger while in the city: To Atticus, Letter 44 (II.24). See also Cicero, Philippics 5.6 (§17). Finally we may cite a letter that Synesius of Cyrene wrote to his brother, probably sometime around the year 400 ce. The brother had apparently questioned the legality of Synesius having his household produce weapons to defend themselves against marauding bands. Synesius points out that there are no Roman legions anywhere near for protection, but he seems reluctantly to admit that he is engaged in an illegal act (Letter 107; for English trans., see Fitzgerald 1926).
Christ commanded them to possess and bear arms, even in violation of the law. This is a fact, and no amount of spiritualizing, Scripture twisting or hermeneutical machinations can get around it.
If we have learned absolutely nothing – and I do mean absolutely nothing – of any import or value on the Scriptural data concerning violence or self defense from the three authors cited here, it seems that it’s time to move on to the mundane and trivial. Benjamin wants to know all about how we keep our guns. But here I find my own attention floating to something else, i.e., how Benjamin parks his cars, where he does so, whether they are put into a safe condition when he isn’t around them, where he keeps his keys, how well he controls the kitchen knives, cleaners, soap, gasoline for power tools, electrical outlet covers, and cabinet locks, and whether all of his circuits are up to current code with GFCIs in the bathrooms, garage, porches and other places they need to be?
In fact, I’m wondering how I know that Benjamin is actually qualified to be a husband and father? But this sort of meddlesome, control freak, brooding mother hen, nanny mentality tires me and seems repulsive and grody, so I think I’ll just leave it to Benjamin seeing that it’s none of my business anyway. Grok that, Benjamin?
As for this notion that cops receive all of this ninja warrior training, it just isn’t so. One friend who recently retired as captain of one of the largest police departments in America, told me that most gun owners’ self training far exceeded what most cops get, mostly who just qualify on the range once a year and then never unholster their weapons after that (thankfully). Otherwise, we would have no answer for all of those examples of stupidity, overreaction, dead dogs, negligent discharges, fellow officer shootings, hundreds of rounds discharged in rolling gun battles inside the inner city, and SWAT raids gone bad. You see Benjamin, if we civilians unholster our weapons, we’re charged with brandishing and we get to talk to a judge and get our rights taken away. If we point our weapons at someone, it’s called assault with a deadly weapon (which includes perceived intent), and we get to go to prison for an extended stay. When the LEOs do it, it’s called being “heroes of the community.” Perhaps, Benjamin, when you pose your shoot / no-shoot scenario, you should be talking to LEOs.
It doesn’t take an experienced law enforcement professional to know that ordinary folks with weapons can and do save lives, every day, all over the world. That’s not the problem or the question. You see, by invoking the police, Benjamin has said too much. He isn’t really a pacifist, he doesn’t really want to perish at the hands of criminals, and he doesn’t really take the teachings of Christ as seriously as he claims. He just believes in the same thing all progressives do – monopoly of force. The ugly little truth of progressives, including Christians who have progressive tendencies, is that they haven’t yet been able to turn away from the state as savior and protector, judge and jury, lawyer and arbiter. They are statists, and their reflexive tendency is to attempt to reconcile their statism with the Holy writ. To them the state is supreme – otherwise they wouldn’t believe in a monopoly of force. The real Scripture twisting is done by them, not the millions of Christians around the world who either know better and dismiss their antics as misguided or who are [unfortunately] misled by them.
There are many more steps in this process, including pointing out that the American revolution has its roots in the covenant theology of continental Calvinism (taught by my former professor Douglas Kelly), and that thousands of pastors fought in the war of independence. For now it is enough to observe that the objections the detractors offer up are like ten leaky buckets. All of them leak, and putting ten of them together no more ensures that you have a viable container than a single leaky bucket. They float from one idea to the next, and don’t seem to spend any time on core objections because that tactic doesn’t work and they know it. They haphazardly throw everything up but the kitchen sink, hoping something will stick. Quantity is favored over quality because none of the objections are compelling.
They hope something will stick not because of the Biblical data on self defense, gun ownership and war, but because of the philosophical presuppositions they bring to their study of the Scriptures. Unless this issue is honestly addressed, their prose will not be honest.
UPDATE: Thanks to WoG, SSI and WRSA for the links.
Philosophizing With Guns
Guns In Church In Mississippi
A Touching And Heartwarming Story Of Violence And Revolution
Jihadist Shooter Was Going To Target A Church
The Idolatry Of Security
They Believe The Angels Will Protect Us
Woe To The Nation Whose Religious Teachers Have Become Workers Of Wickedness
Should Christians Own Guns?
A Desperate Cry From Iraq’s Christians
The PCUSA On Guns
Dear Christians With Guns
Concerning The Nigerian Christian Girls
Guns: Think Of The Children
Does Jesus Shoot An AR-15?
Baptist Forum Does Gun Control
Who Would Jesus Shoot?
The Golden Calf Of Gun Control
Faith And Firearms
Guns And Religion
When Christians Discuss Guns
Christians, The Second Amendment And The Duty Of Self Defense